1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

NATO, Afghan forces kill more civilians than Taliban

April 24, 2019

Security forces in Afghanistan killed more civilians in the first part of 2019 than the Taliban and other terrorist groups. At the same time, casualty numbers fell compared with the previous year.

An ambulance arrives at the scene after twin explosions targeted central Kabul
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/H. Sabawoon

Afghan civilians were killed in greater numbers by NATO and pro-government security forces in the first three months of 2019 than by armed militants, according to UN figures.

It's the first time that fatalities caused by security forces in Afghanistan have exceeded those caused by the Taliban.

What you need to know:

  • In the first quarter of 2019, pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians, while insurgents killed 227.
  • The leading causes of civilian deaths were air strikes (145 fatalities) and ground search operations primarily carried out by US-backed Afghan forces (72).
  • Women and children comprised half of civilian casualties from aerial operations, with international forces responsible for the vast majority of these.
  • Overall, 581 civilians were killed and 1,192 wounded, representing a 23 percent decrease in overall casualties on the same quarter last year.

Investigation needed

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which released its report on Wednesday, urged security forces to investigate the casualties.

 "UNAMA urges both the Afghan national security forces and international military forces to conduct investigations into allegations of civilian casualties, to publish the results of their findings, and to provide compensation to victims as appropriate," the report stated.

On the subject of search operations, UNAMA said some of the internationally-supported Afghan forces "appear to act with impunity."

Changing trends

The US military increased the pace of its bombing operations in 2017 after President Donald Trump loosened restrictions to make it easier to bomb Taliban positions.

Read more: Afghanistan: Can peace prevail?

Although several nations contribute logistical or technical support, with an increasing number of sorties flown by Afghanistan's own fledgling airforce, US aircraft conduct the large majority of airstrikes. 

The overall drop in casualties compared with the previous year was attributed to a decrease in suicide bomb attacks, which spiked in early 2018. In January last year, 100 people were killed in a single incident when an explosives-laden ambulance blew up in Kabul.

UNAMA said it did not know if the fall in the number of suicide attacks was attributable to a harsh winter or whether the Taliban were deliberately avoiding civilian deaths as they conduct peace talks with the United States.

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.